I’ve been on a news blackout since I learned Prince died. I haven’t read a thing, ignored social media; I’ve even avoided talking about it. I feel silly, but it seems personal somehow. I was a huge fan from Dirty Mind through about Diamonds and Pearls, but did sort of lose interest after that. That’s another reason why this all surprises me so much.

When I learned he died, I was sitting at my desk, just finishing about four hours of working on a large writing project. It’s been over a year in the making and I made my last edit before I would send it off to an editor and friend to read. It was a really wonderful moment. I felt confident and proud – and just plain happy that I’d reached this milestone in the project. I marked the final page, put the manuscript down, and basked in my little glory. Then flipped over my phone, which I had been ignoring, and there they were. Text after text: Prince is dead.

That’s not why this is personal, but the timing was something to be noted. I went then to the Internet news feeds, read a headline, and turned it off. I just couldn’t take it.

Prince grew up in my hometown. He’s five years older than me, but went to neighboring high school and even then there were tales of this kid across town who was a rock and roll genius, could play any instrument, guitar virtuoso and all the rest. And his name was really Prince. That was cool.

There were wonderful celebrations for Prince here. I couldn’t imagine going to any of them. I just needed to process this, and especially in the wake of Bowie’s death. Another of my heroes of youth – and adulthood. Toss in Harry Nilsson and we have three dead of about five. Maybe that’s why it feels personal?

Funny how we mourn celebrities. Generally we don’t know them, have never met them, and only do know them through their work and often very tailored image, but we do. We feel deep sadness. Are we mourning the stoppage of their work, that they will never create again, the passing of an era, or mourning ourselves?

In school, many years ago, I wrote a paper on Prince. (I apologize for the errors, I had to type it in from a printed doc.) It’s a sort of Jungian analysis of Prince. If you know Jung, you know Prince was ripe for it. It was a joyful experience. I even made a cassette of the music that I referred to for the professor, David Smith, who was extremely encouraging and even suggested the tape for him to listen to. Some years ago I put it on the web, wondering if Prince would call and say, “Take it down!” I wish he had.

I also made an online copy of it and then through night after drunken night, added links and pictures and so on. Weird stuff.

It’s personal because it actually does hurt when a celebrity dies, and especially one of your celebrities. These are real emotions, obviously. Complex emotions.

The world is a little less funky. We’ve lost an irreplaceable artist and incredible talent. And while we’ve lost Prince, the man, his music will live on and on and on.


Fra Lippo Lippi

Fra lippo lippi
Fra Lippo Lippi Small Mercies

This album makes me happy. Its simplicity makes me happy. It’s clean and simple. It reminds me of scrubbing things – showers, floors; washing windows, polishing up the hardware. It’s the joyful sense of simple accomplishments. It’s why I love to fold clothes. Set about a task, and finish it. And it’s viewable – enjoyable by me. Simple things.

The album begins with “Heaven, help me if this is love,” but it still makes me happy despite they’re asking a place. They’ve got to single someone out. Aphrodite maybe.

The drums sit on top – the snare is always there (if you think it’s time to rhyme). Snap, snap, snap! It’s reassuring, like the trains, that they run and the snare snaps. These things say, It’s okay, life goes on.

The picture on the cover shows a little channel of smudged copper water through an autumnal scene. Water seeks the bottom, and gets there if there’s a way. It’s got gravity, weight and slippery working for it.

I wonder if the lead guy isn’t the drummer – or the producer has a thing about snare drums. They’d call him Snappy maybe, although he might not like that.

We can’t expect people to think just like we do – there are too many factors that factor in to them and me. Everyone’s smart phone looks the same but what’s inside is different

There were no smartphones when this album came out in 1983. Not many personal computers even. No doubt has something to do with the cleanliness and simplicity.

That’s the rub in the modern world, isn’t it? Too many choices.

This song doesn’t have any snare, only a kick drum. Oh, shit, there’s the snare.

I read about Fra Lippo Lippi – the namesake for the band – in school but I can’t tell you much about it, but he was a long time ago and maybe he was a religious figure and maybe wore a robe. There were a lot fewer choices back then.

Other than the lack of any sanitation, the plague and pestilence, the rotting teeth and zilch healthcare, I wonder if they were happier. They had plenty of cleaning to do.



Tangerine Dream, The Tubeway Army and The Tubes


RubyconI bought Tangerine Dream’s “Rubycon” ten years after it came out and it was still way ahead of where electronic music was going – ambient already and electronica long before electronica was cool.

The album features “Rubycon Part I” and “Rubycon Part II” on the corresponding sides. They both begin in a moody sort of manner – lush synth voices swirling about (the former) or droning and brooding (the latter), that build into their signature sounds, soft driving synths, evolving and layered over one another, with what were considered almost unrecognizable melodies at the time flowing in and out. They are both powerful and beautiful pieces – brilliantly wrought with the oscillators and envelopes, buttons and sliders of the old analog synthesizers.

There were others at the time, but Tangerine Dream seemed to break into the collective consciousness more than the likes of Cluster, Yellow Magic Orchestra or other early electronic outfits. Eno, of course. Tangerine Dream was maybe more melodic, more palatable to our tastes so early on in the history of the genre(s). And all these guys are at the roots of the tree and to be thanked by all of the branches and leaves.

Pretty much everyone who touched a synthesizer since owes a debt to them all, Gary Numan among them.

Gary Numan’s been given the short shrift, dismissed as a one-hit wonder, or some sort of oddity, when his “Cars” pretty much blew everyone’s mind even if they were among the anti-electronic movement that permeated rock and roll. In those days, among many folks, synths were not real music – the technology was suspect and not a little because disco artists embraced it. People actually burned disco records. Even compared to the serious-mindedness of the Tangerine Dreams, this seemed like just fey pop.

Gary NumanBut “Cars” was a revelation. It was drenched in synthesizers, but it was not disco, and you had to admit it kind of rocked out, and it was a certifiable U.S. hit – dropping in beside Bob Seger, Bette Midler, Air Supply and even the Pure Prairie League on the June 7, 1980 U.S. Rock Billboard charts. (He was all over the U.K. charts at the time and for a long time.) The album also featured “Are ‘Friends’ Electric,” which also got some radio play and was thought to be the better song among many.

In “Cars,” Numan sings about retreating into the most immersive techno gadget anyone owned at the time – their car. He sings: “Here in my car, I feel safest of all. I can lock all the doors. It’s the only way to live – in cars.”

“Are ‘Friends’ Electric,” I want to be about the concept of a Facebook “friend”- or more largely, communication in the age of technology – considering his putting it in quotations, but alas it’s not.

Gary Numan and The Tubeway Army (his band) had a sort-of genderless Bowie look but without any “Rebel Rebel” to temper it so seemed rather feminine to the average 1980 U.S. radio listener. I’m not sure if it had anything to do with the scorn he endured, but it might have moved some of the Zeppelin fans toward contempt a teensy bit.

However, had The Tubes “Turn Me On” hit the charts in 1978 when it was released, it might have superseded “Cars” in being the first cool verifiable synth hit in the U.S. – my designation. Yes, it’s got live drums, guitar and bass, but the synthesizers in the beginning sound like Tangerine Dream on speed and dominate throughout. And it’s a great song!

Remote ControlThe Tubes embraced technology to make an album that denigrated technology, and particularly the television. “Remote Control” brilliantly and presciently skewers early-on our now ubiquitous obsession with screens of all types. Just take a gander at the cover and note that this was 1978 – 13 years before The Internet went live to the world – and there we are in all of our 2016 glory. Our screens are our pacifiers, and particularly our smartphones, which we grab whenever we want to feel connected, some tiny thrill or just a reason to tune out. Hand me my nookie, I’m feeling bored.

Throughout the album The Tubes equate our relationship with television as love and adoration and with all the emotions that go along with those. “Turn Me On,” is essentially a sex song spotted with television lingo. The next song, “TV is King,” continues in this manner. Here’s the chorus:

I really love my television
I love to sit by television
Can’t live without my television
TV is king, you’re my everything!

The next is “Prime Time,” which also continues the theme to a degree. The rest of the album strays a bit from that except for the final track on side two: “Telecide,” and I must share a rather long sample of the lyrics:

Things get too inertial
No time for commercials
I’d rather be a clone
I guess I’m going home
To visit Kojak
Gong Show
Happy Days
Edge Of Night
Love Of Life
Merv and Mike
Good Times
Make A Deal
Charlie’s Angels
Family Feud

Feeling so much thinner
I need a TV dinner

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore

TV suicide
TV suicide
What a lovely way to die
It’s a television suicide

Television is killing us, we’re seeing real killing on television, and it’s time to be mad as hell and kill the televisions. Synthesizers do not dominate this particular song.

Todd Rundgren produced, “Remote Control” is incredibly tight, wickedly intelligent and comfortably thematic (that can go south), and really, really way ahead of its time.

The Tubes knew all along.


George’s Altoid


Take a look at my Altoid. The graniness of the photo suggests that it might not actually exist, but it does and that’s because my photo lens is scratched. That is how my Altoid tumbled out of the metal box. That gray dot was there when it landed. And I don’t like that gray dot one bit. Except for the fact that you can see George Washington in it. But either way, what’s it doing there? What’s George Washington doing etched into a gray dot on my Altoid?

The intruder leaves no clue as to what it is. It looks like cement, but not up close. Or clay maybe. Why would there be cement or clay on my Altoid? I smell concrete boots and a drop into a deep reservoir. Don’t you? Maybe not. It could be gray paint. Maybe one of their worst employees got it in his thick skull that gray Altoids would fly off the shelf, dumbass, they totally wouldn’t, and now I have this soiled Altoid to deal with.

Altoid. Sounds like a robot. That could have something to do with it. I don’t know.

I can’t eat the Altoid because I can’t be certain the gray matter isn’t poisonous. I could have someone else try it for me but I’m no emperor. If I were I would do something about gray dots with George Washington showing up on people’s Altoids. I would also do away with robots. I think.

I have other Altoids but this one has kind of stopped me in my Altoid desires. It’s like how some guys freak out when their wife has a baby – usually when they see it coming out but that makes sense because that is the moment of truth, baby!

I’ve only seen it on YouTube.

The problem with the Altoid is really the contrast. Imagine if you will that same intruder if it were white. It would blend in, right? And I would just think, “Ooh, I got more Altoid for the price of one!” But it could still be the same intruder – a lamb in sheep’s clothing is all. I saw a fox last Friday. It ran right in front of my car. Stupid fox. But they’re smart! Foxes are.

I was like, “Hey, Fox, get out of the way!” Stupid fox. But they are smart.

Whoever put this intruder on my Altoid is also smart – really smart. But I’m not done thinking this one through. There’s got to be something about it online. Maybe a video or something.

I wonder if they’ve done any tests on these things. Like in the lab. I’m thinking they have – broke it right down to the atomic level. Weird that we’ve never heard anything about it. Don’t you think? I’m not saying anything, I’m just saying we don’t know everything. If your head nods in agreement that could mean that you agree that we don’t know everything or that you actually do know everything. I wouldn’t know what to do, I guess. But I can’t see you anyway. Life is like that.

If you know everything tell me what the heck is intruding on my Altoid. You don’t know everything. No one does. Not even George Washington. Or the fox.

New House, Holy Turntable


I moved recently and have space for my albums, which I took out of storage and now have at my disposal along with my turntable, of course. It was like looking at an old photo album thumbing through those boxes – most albums, but some big 45s. I also have a box of the little 45s, which I’ve yet to break into.

I pulled out “Houses of the Holy” first, which is Led Zeppelin’s “Lovesexy” or in other words, an album that a great artist makes after a string of hits that seems effortless, and which I think might be their best. So maybe the designation is personal, but I’m sticking with it.

“Houses of the Holy” was the first Led Zeppelin album I owned. Prior to that I was at the mercy of my brother’s albums and mix 8-track tapes, which he named “Rock 1,” “Rock 2,” “Rock 3,” and so on, inspired no doubt by Zeppelin. The cover art features naked blond children climbing up a pyramid – or some pyramid-like structure. I was struck looking at it that in our panicked world, it would probably be considered perverted and racist.

I loved it. I wanted to be one of those kids, at the photo shoot, climbing up the rocks, and cracking up between shots with John Bonham, whom I assumed was really funny. Led Zeppelin was the real deal among us kids, which is ironic as I recently read they were pieced together by a producer, not unlike One Direction. But Led Zeppelin was king and deservedly so, no matter how they came together.

Robert Plant was the quintessential rock singer, maybe one small step above Roger Daltrey, but not quite Freddie Mercury who seemed to float above and beyond any and all other rock and roll singers. John Paul Jones was the bassist and like pretty much all bassists we really liked him but didn’t have much to say about him. It’s the usual fate of the bassist and most bassists seem to prefer it that way. Jimmy Page was a guitar god – pure and simple. And John Bonham, John Bonham; those drums ruled our world. Huge pounding beats exploding off in all directions! We were blown away by John Bonham.

Like all young people we had a hierarchy and most everyone would have Led Zeppelin at the top. If not, you could get away with The Stones because they were The Stones; The Who was doable; Rush would just inspire ridicule. They were Canadian, for starters, and the bass player sang and often high, but not high like Robert Plant who could freaking wail! Geddy Lee just sang, well, too high too much.

That’s about it though. It really was Zeppelin at the top and “Houses of the Holy” was a brilliant album. It was a good way to christen my new house – or really the detached garage where my turntable now sits like a time machine awaiting my next journey back in time. Right on.